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74th Meeting of SFEM (the French Mariological Society) at Pontmain in France


Our Lady of Pontmain

The 74th meeting of the Société française d’Études mariales (The French Mariological Society) took place at Pontmain in the north west of France from 26th - 29th August 2019.


Pontmain is a little village that is now celebrated as the location of a nineteenth-century apparition of the Virgin Mary during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71) – a conflict that had severely affected the small community as thirty-eight of its inhabitants were away in the army. By January 1871 the Prussians were advancing towards the nearby town of Laval and defeat appeared to be inevitable. However, on the night of 17 January 1871, two brothers named Eugène and Joseph Barbedette (aged 12 and 10 respectively) had a vision of a beautiful lady in the sky above Pontmain. The boys described the lady’s dark blue dress, which was covered with golden stars, and the black veil and golden crown on her head. Other children also responded to the apparition, which went through a number of phases over three hours, including the appearance of a red crucifix in the lady’s hands. Beneath her feet there was a banner that gradually revealed the following message:


MAIS PRIEZ MES ENFANTS, DIEU VOUS EXAUCERA EN PEU DE TEMPS


MON FILS SE LAISSE TOUCHER


(BUT PRAY MY CHILDREN, GOD WILL ANSWER YOU SOON


MY SON LETS HIMSELF BE MOVED)


It was later noted that, on the same night, the Prussian advance halted, and the town of Laval did not fall after all; and the war itself soon came to an end. The apparition of the Virgin Mary was approved by the Catholic Church, and the basilica that now stands on the site has become a place of pilgrimage. Our Lady of Pontmain is also known under the title of Our Lady of Hope.


Pontmain provided a prayerful setting for the Mariological conference, with French-speaking theologians from Europe and the United States offering rich and inspirational papers on the way in which the Virgin Mary influenced the life and work of key religious figures of the 20th century. The subjects included Maurice Zundel, Edith Stein, Adrienne von Speyr, Marie-Noël, Marie-Joseph Lagrange, Marie-Etienne Vayssière, Émile Neubert, Charles Journet, Jean Guitton, and Simone Weil. The academic study was enhanced by a guided tour of Pontmain and a concert of beautiful Marian music sung by the Chœur Polyphonies Mariales. The sessions were recorded and broadcast on Radio Espérance (and should be available via “catch up”)


The papers from the annual SFEM conferences are published in the journal Études Mariales, which is a valuable Marian resource for readers with knowledge of the French language. Some of the volumes may be consulted online via Gallica, the digital library of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.


Copies of more recent issues of the journal may be purchased from the Secretariat of the Society. For more details, please email: secretaire.sfem@gmail.com

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